Travel Hacking for Dummies
Do you need a credit card?
Can anyone be a travel hacker?
Many travelers become fanatical about travel hacking, but let’s face it, not everyone has (or can get) a credit card. So does this mean that travel hacking is only for those of a certain class or from a certain country?
In a word, no!
In essence, travel hacking is about finding deals and maximizing travel rewards. It’s stretching your travel dollars without sacrificing experiences. It also requires a little more thought and planning.
Travel Hacking Before Your RTW Trip
Airline Loyalty Programs
For instance if you’re an Aeroplan member (Air Canada), you can earn miles at ESSO gas stations, shopping for groceries at Sobeys, or shopping online (through their e-store) with big brands like Apple, Banana Republic, and so on. Sobeys, for instance, offers an in-store rewards program which can be linked to an Aeroplan account or used to get free groceries. I chose to link it to my Aeroplan account and shop for items that are on sale and have bonus points to maximize my earnings. For every 2 Club Sobeys points, I earn 1 Aeroplan mile.
Think before you shop. Can you purchase the items you want online through an airline loyalty e-store? If you can, buy the items online instead of going to the store. Sure, you will have to wait a little longer to receive the items you want, but you’re earning miles!
For example AA Advantage and Aeroplan both have e-stores and a partnership with Apple. AA Advantage offers 1 mile for every dollar spent. Aeroplan offers 2 miles for every dollar spent. While I am a member of both programs, I live in Canada, so I choose to shop through Aeroplan’s e-store. I was in need of a new computer, so I took this into account when purchasing. I ordered a 13” MacBook Pro with retina and 256GB flash storage for $1,549 (money I would have spent regardless). By shopping through the Aeroplan e-store, I earned 3,098 Aeroplan miles. Score!
When you start building miles with a particular airline long before you leave on a big trip, you can then use those miles to help pay for the biggest expense on your trip – the airfare.
Important Note: It’s important to read each of the airline loyalty program details before joining. For instance Delta has recently changed the way points are awarded. Now, instead of earning points based on distance, you earn points based on the fare you’ve purchased.
For example: The London Citypass* includes 60 attractions. You can buy a one day pass for £59, but if you buy the London Citypass with Travel for only £72, you will get unlimited travel on London’s tube and other public transportation while the pass is valid.
It’s a great deal as a one day Travel Card for zones 1-3 costs £12.10.
*The London Citypass with Travel is only available to purchase online before your arrival in London.
Travel Hacking on Your RTW Trip
For example, if I book a flight through Turkish Airlines I earn 150% Aeroplan miles, as oppose to earning 100% Aeroplan miles by flying with Air Canada. Knowing this I weigh my options. Which airline has the cheaper airfare? Do I mind paying a little extra to earn more points?
Always Claim Airline Miles
Note: If you’re not a member of the airline loyalty program, join BEFORE you fly with them so you can claim the points.
Booking websites are a great way to find flight deals, and sometimes it’s worth comparing these websites to find the best deals. Some of the more popular ones are Kayak, Travelocity, Momondo, and Skyscanner. Use the Indie trip planner to plan your route and price tickets.
Open an Incognito Window
Why? The easiest way to explain is that they are greedy bastards.
The details are that they will use your own cookies against you by raising the price on tickets the more times you check. As you shop around for better deals, you’ll notice the price is going up and think seats are filling up, increasing your stress level and urgency to buy.
Think About Currency Exchange
Example: I searched Kayak, Momondo, and Skyscanner for a return flight from LHR to BKK Aug 3 – 17, 2014. I opened a new browser for each booking website, then opened an incognito window for Kayak and changed to GBP for currency (instead of USD).
- Kayak listed a flight with Aeroflot for $1,246 USD, and the same flight in GBP is £712.
- The same flight on momondo was $1,359 USD, or £793.
- Skyscanner listed it for $1,580 USD or £892.
In this instance it would be be cheaper to book the flight in GBP through kayak.com as it’s clearly the better deal.
Note: Make sure you’re aware of the your credit card or bank exchange rates before booking in a foreign currency. Look at all of the angles.
Hotel Loyalty Programs
Most hotel loyalty programs will allow you to either:
- earn points that can be used for free nights, or
- link your memberships with your airline loyalty program so your points are automatically transferred to your airline loyalty program
Many hotel loyalty programs include all hotel brands held by the parent company. For example, Starwood covers W Hotels, Westin, St. Regis, Aloft, Element, The Luxury Collection Hotels & Resorts, Le Meridien, Sheraton, and Four Points Sheraton Hotels.*
*Points earned within a loyalty program/network can be redeemed for rewards at any of the bands included in the program.
Work for Stay
In most cases the work will be front desk or housekeeping (usually the latter). That being said, if you are tech savvy, talk to a guesthouse or hostel about doing tech work, like creating a better website for them in exchange for room and board. Or maybe offer to organize activities and tours for the guests. There are lots of possibilities, and hostel owners and managers are always looking for eager travelers to exchange a little work for a free room.
Note: We don’t recommend WWOOFing if you’re only in it for the free room and board. There is a lot to learn from WWOOFing – a free place to crash is just a bonus.
On hot days, visit churches or take a free tour of a parliament building or historic site. These are fabulous places to escape the heat and to learn about the local culture.
Check tourism websites for upcoming festivals as many will have free outdoor activities and concerts (though accommodation and transport costs may rise during these times, so weigh your options).
Free Museum Nights
Use Metro Passes
Hop-On, Hop-Off Buses
For example, Mexico City is massive, and although there are city buses and a metro system, there are some areas that can be challenging to get to. The Turibus is a hop-on hop-off double decker bus which offers two circuits. The cost for each circuit is only 140 pesos, which is about $8.10 USD, and you have unlimited access to the circuit you purchase for that day.
It’s about doing a little research and planning to get the best deals. None of which require a credit card. Look for deals. If you get points or a discount for signing up for a newsletter, do it! You can unsubscribe a couple months later.
Think of travel hacking as a game, and make it fun.